How to Organize a General Strike: A Movement Reflection

January 14, 2017

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Over the past decade, calls for general strikes have become a recurrent feature of the social movement landscape in the United States. In some cases, these have led to mass actions involving thousands or millions of workers. In others, they have largely failed to materialize beyond Facebook event pages. As we head into an era of right-wing control of all three branches of the federal government, increased erosion of civil rights and the right to organize, and intensified attacks on workers, women, people of color, LGBTQ, and muslims, what can a look at the past ten years of mass mobilizations tell us about how to build and exert power without friends in high places?

In this panel discussion, organizers from mass strike mobilizations of the past ten years will share their reflections on what worked and what didn’t, so that we can fight to win in the intense years ahead.

Participants include:

Quebec IWW: May Day 2015 Public Sector General Strike
Annabelle Sanchez and Éric Dufault were both involved in the campaign for a May Day general strike in Quebec in 2015. Through the IWW-Montreal and other social movements they helped organize one of the first political strikes in Quebec since the 1980’s. Annabelle is also part of different collectives in feminist and antifascist struggles. Éric is also a participant in the antifascist and anarchist movements. They both participated in the student movement during and before the Quebec student strike of 2012, which is one of the inspirations for the May Day strike of 2015. They also started a cultural collective together called Dure Réalité to try to spread their political values.

National Women’s Liberation: J20 Women Strike
Adrielle Munger will be on strike on January 20-21, 2017 as part of the Women Strike, called by National Women’s Liberation. Taking cues from many previous successful Women’s Strikes throughout the world, this strike aims to raise consciousness about the unfair work – paid and unpaid – that falls on women, and get women organized and ready for the long fight ahead. Adrielle has been active in NWL and Redstockings ( since 2013, and also organizes to fight the exploitation of unpaid interns in the Intern Worker Alliance. Adrielle works as a research assistant for the Redstockings Women’s Liberation Archives for Action in New York City, and is a freelance researcher and copyeditor. When she is not studying radical feminism and movement history, Adrielle is writing a book about the Faust Myth and the Internet. Adrielle is striking from wearing makeup, ignoring street harassment, accepting misogynist comments, and working her 3(!!) paid jobs to pay her exorbitant rent. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Movimiento Cosecha: General Strike for Immigrant Rights
Movimiento Cosecha seeks to become a nonviolent army with the function of catalyzing immigrants and allies towards massive non­cooperation to win permanent protection, dignity and respect for immigrants in the US. Cosecha seeks to create change by winning the hearts, minds, and support of a majority of Americans and achieving active, sustained support of about 3.5% of the population. Therefore, their work and actions are focused on winning over more and more people, not politicians or CEOs. Movimiento Cosecha’s organizing is based on a four-phased strategy:

  1. Build support in the immigrant and ally community for a new immigration solution
  2. Demonstrate that political parties cannot give us what we want
  3. Publically affect the American economy and its dependence on immigrant & ally consumers through boycotts
  4. Stop the country for periods of time through a general strike and massive civil disobedience until recognition and protection has been enabled


Immanuel Ness is Professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg. His research focuses on migration, working class mobilization, labor movements in the Global South, urban movements of the poor and dispossessed, and socialist political theory. Ness is author of Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class (Pluto, 2015) and many other books.

Sponsored by the NYC IWW. Organized in collaboration with the all-day event, Anti-Trump Free School / Escuelita Libre Anti-Trump, co-organized by Free University – NYC and Mayday Space.

IWW Backyard BBQ and Direct Action Discussion – Saturday, AUG 27, 3 – 7pm

August 17, 2016

Join us at 113 Wilson Avenue in Brooklyn from 3 – 7PM, as we host a worker from the Burgerville Workers Union and workers from local campaigns in a discussion about their strategies and challenges in waging active direct action union campaigns, free of the NLRB. Enjoy the afternoon in a beautiful backyard where cheap beer and IWW merch will be for sale to fundraise for these important campaigns. Bring whatever you wish to throw on the grill!

IWOC Bike Ride fundraiser – Saturday, August 27 at 9:30 AM – 5 PM

August 17, 2016

Please bring yourself, a bike, snacks, plenty of water, and maybe a friend or two, for this 26 mile ride. We will start in the Bronx, and make our way north mostly via trails (paved and unpaved). Once we arrive in Ossining, we will explore a small exhibit in the town about Sing Sing and its use of prison labor, and then go to the outside of the prison itself for a short speakout. Then, we will eat together and some will ride the 26 miles back, while another group will take the metro north back to the city. Tickets for the metro north are $10 to $15, so plan accordingly. If the weather is particularly adverse on Saturday, we will ride Sunday. Please email:[email protected] for any questions or updates.

Also please bring $5-$15 dollars as a donation to IWOC towards helping build for the strike. NO ONE TURNED AWAY FOR LACK OF FUNDS.

Please Call at: (917) 715-7866 If you’re running late!!! Thanks!

Beverage Plus, Pay Up!

April 8, 2015

Several former workers at Beverage Plus and their supporters visited the company in Maspeth Queens this week to demand that the owner Yun Cho pay the more than $1.2 million owed to the workers from a wage theft lawsuit. Cho was present but did not come out to talk to the workers who then left a letter demanding payment. The company, which has also operated under the names YS Beverage and Grand Beverage, is a distributor in New York City, handling products such as Coca Cola and Poland Spring beverages. It was found liable in 2012 for multiple violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act for unpaid minimum wage and overtime for dozens of workers. The workers are still seeking the payments in court but have also called upon supporters to join their campaign to get the money owed to them. The workers have been long time members of the Brandworkers and NYC Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) campaign to organize and improve conditions in New York City’s food production and distribution sector.

Stay tuned for more actions in support of the Beverage Plus workers!

Three Ways To Win Your IWW Campaign

November 24, 2014

By Daniel Gross

The IWW has made dramatic strides in the last decade, returning to its roots as an effective and transformative labor union. Unique campaigns in diverse industries have won important gains for workers and significantly influenced the broader labor movement. Still, the building of enduring worker-led and operated industrial unions, a founding mandate of our union, has not yet been fully realized.

With the IWW’s strong recent track record, unparalleled experience in rank-and-file organizing, and rich learnings from our work, we are positioned to get to the next level of building durable industrial unions to scale.

Here are three ways we can get to the next level:

1. Take a Step Back

Too many Wobbly campaigns start with a group of workers deciding they are going to talk to their co-workers and organize their shop. The idea is after the shop or chain is organized, they will then figure out how to organize the industry. This approach is not working because a shop is not a significant unit in our economy; industries are.

Instead of jumping right in to organize your shop, take a step back and look at your industry. Your job as an IWW organizer is to organize your shop, but more so, it is to co-found a successful industrial union of workers in your industry. Understand the industry, its workers, employers, customers, investors, supply chain, distribution, and so forth. Build a model to win in the industry, including at your job.

Once you have taken a step back you might decide that your industrial union building effort actually should start with organizing your shop or chain, and that is totally fine. You will have the roadmap to do it right and the mission’s clarity in that your ultimate project is to build an effective industrial union. On the other hand, you might decide on a totally different path into an industry that at the moment does not directly involve your employer. That is fine, too, as then you have just avoided years of misdirected effort.

It is completely understandable to want to get the ball rolling, fight injustice at your shop or company, and then figure out the bigger picture as you go. But, by taking a step back you will avoid the fate that has felled many Wobbly campaigns and instead, you will be investing in big, durable victories to come.

2. Get Clarity on Your Strategy

Many IWW campaigns have faltered for lack of a viable strategy or even a lack of any articulated strategy. We need to learn strategy-making in the IWW. Without finding a strategy that works for your industrial union building effort, the most courageous and hard-fought efforts will be beaten.

The two essential questions to formulate strategy are: where will we struggle and how will we win? “Where to struggle” means things like which industry, sector, geographic location, employers, or other stakeholders that will be our focus. “How to win” means the unique choices we make to achieve our winning objective in the field of struggle we have picked. These two strategy questions are adapted from the work of business school professor Roger Martin, which we modified in New York for use in worker organizations. A good way to start practicing with the “where to struggle” and “how to win” questions is to apply them to various worker organizing campaigns that you are familiar with, successful and unsuccessful, inside and outside the IWW.

More than anything, your strategy must assert the power you will need to win your demands. Asserting sufficient power is extremely difficult and will not come from generic formulations. Each industrial union effort will have to do its own thinking about this question. Differ-ent industries, sectors, workers, employers and geographies pose varied challenges and opportunities for power assertion. Always include secondary targets or influencers in your analysis. A common success factor for many worker organizing campaigns has been the ability to move those stakeholders.

Several IWW campaigns today have only an employer-level strategy, which is related to the need to step back, which I have discussed. Do not fall into that trap. The mission is to build an industrial union and that requires a cascade of strategies beyond your shop or employer.

Many industrial union building efforts will need an overall organizational strategy, an industry-level strategy, a sector-level strategy, and an employer-level strategy. You will answer the where to struggle and how to win question for each level. And each level is interrelated.

You should be able to write down the core of each strategy level in the ballpark of 25 words or less. This short statement will not replace a strategic plan; but, the best engines of power assertion are amenable to simple and brief articulation. It is much easier to remember and align a team of founding fellow workers around 25 words than it is 25 pages.

Scared you will assess and test several strategies but still choose the wrong path? You probably will. However, with a system for regular strategy reviews and the will to keep the struggle alive, you will adjust until you find the strategy that works. And adjust again if it stops working. With effective strategy-making, you and other workers will see big and game-changing results in IWW organizing.

3. Build a Model

A strategy to win is necessary but not sufficient to create an industrial union. In casual conversation, we often interchange strategy and model. We cannot afford to make that mistake in the high-stakes and incredibly difficult project of founding an industrial union. Strategy is a component of an organizational model. A model includes all of your organization’s fundamental building blocks and how they interlace.

Which set of workers in the industry will you and your fellow workers seek out first? What channels will you prioritize to reach those workers? How will leaders develop?

If you are able to successfully assert power, what mechanism will use to define and hold the gains you win? A collective bargaining agreement? A code of conduct with large brands? A non-contractual standard, which was for example IWW Local 8’s approach on the Philadelphia waterfront?

How will you tie the value created by the industrial union to being a member of the organization? How will you retain members? What will you measure to see if your vision is making progress in the messy world of reality?

These are some key questions that a model must seek to answer and test. Though interrelated with strategy, hopefully, it is clear they require their own thinking and formulation. It takes a complete model for an industrial union to win, scale and endure.

Like strategy, the model almost never works right off the bat and that is fine. The key is to dialogue, debate, and document your model as founding co-workers and to stay alive. You will refine the model as you go and even transform it dramatically if needed. When it does click you will change your industry and your workplace, and maybe even the labor movement and the world.

A member of the New York City IWW, Daniel Gross founded the worker center Brandworkers and helped launch the IWW Starbucks Workers Union while he was a barista at the company.